A series of Riotous events!

“Why the ‘Riot’ Ensemble?” I’m quite often asked. I usually reply that our Artistic Director Aaron Holloway-Nahum dreamed up the name many years ago, pre- 2011, and has nothing to do with a quick smash for a new flatscreen or pair of trainers and, as far as I know, no-one’s tried to launch a brick through the window of one of our concerts (yet).

What we’re really referencing is the riotous feeling that occurs when new music meets new players and new ears for the first time; when composers, performers and audience come together and feel an equal and important part of the creative process. After all, these roles are never as separate as the national curriculum would have us believe.

Since pianists are surplus to requirements for our next concert of string quartets– at LSO St Luke’s on March 8th at 7.30pm- I shall be joining the audience at a Riot Ensemble concert for the first time. This well-deserved little ‘sabbatical’ has also afforded me the time to complete a new composition, so I am ticking all the GCSE boxes! My teachers would be proud.

I was asked by my colleague Dr Laura Ritchie at the University of Chichester to write a piece for many cellos with a few interesting and indeterminate variables, not least the actual number of players that will show up for her Cello Weekend (March 16/17) and the varying experience of these performers. I have dealt with similar situations before through my work with Contemporary Music for All (CoMA) and educational projects for the RNCM, and have learnt that this is not a challenge but rather a delicious opportunity to unleash experimental ideas upon performers and audience with a generous dollop of ‘riot’ to boot.


                                            The opening of Celli-Chela

In my piece for the RNCM – ‘Football Crazy’ for any large number of pianos – there was something of a riot at the first performance (this may have had as much to do with the face paint and whistles as it did the neon-tinged D7 chords). I built a competitive process into this piece that I turned to again in ‘Maggie Maggie Maggie! Sing Sing Sing!’. This encourages the performers to behave as musical wide-boys amassing pitch and dynamic as currency in a Thatcherite society (there’s no such thing!). Less competitive (but still interactive) I wrote ‘Many Dark Actor Playing Games’ for Cambridge University and CoMA, a political satire on the decisions leading up to the 2003 Iraq invasion ending with a mini-requiem for weapons expert Dr David Kelly.

Chela Earrings, no joke!

This new multi-cello piece eschews sport and politics in favour of zoology, but maintains the game processes I used in these other works. It’s called ‘Celli-Chela’- a punning reference to the pincer-like appendages on crabs or lobsters. Our crustacean-like cellists will be attempting to scuttle across a musical rockpool while ‘nipping’ other cellists using a snap pizzicato. The sonic result will be an ever-ascending blend of various extended techniques for cello in a slowly developing harmonic framework, rather like parts of Lachenmann’s quartets but without the hassle of notating it precisely… does this make me a lazy composer?

I suppose I’ll find out the answer to this last question (eek) on March 8th at the LSO St Luke’s concert, when we’ll hear new quartets by top composers from around the world. The Chichester Cello Weekend is on March 16th (concert 7.30pm) and 17th (concert 4pm), and also at the University of Chichester is a jamboree of new music on March 12th (7.30pm) featuring Tom Reid’s new score for the silent film Ballet Mecanique and David Sawer’s score for ‘Hollywood Extra’. Both films will be shown alongside the music, and the concert ends with Michael Daugherty’s piece for two Barbie sopranos and rock ‘n’ roll ensemble ‘What’s That Spell’.

Hope to see you at some of these riotous events!